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Free Will

Edited by Neil Levy (Oxford University)
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Summary Most philosophers and laypeople believe that under most conditions human beings, perhaps along with some other animals, possess a power of selecting and implementing actions which is special. This power is very widely held to be a necessary condition of responsibility for actions, for autonomy and for being entitled to take pride in (or to feel shame for) one's achievements. The free will debate in philosophy aims at elucidating the nature of that power as well as at identifying potential threats to it and explaining how it can exist. A major focus of the debate is the compatibility of free will with causal determinism. A minority of philosophers deny that we have free will because free will is incompatible with causal determinism.
Key works The free will debate is ancient in Western philosophy, but was first developed systematically by scholastic thinkers concerning about the relationship free will and God's foreknowledge (eg Ockham 1983). The rise of mechanistic science brought determinism to the forefront and played an important role in the development of compatibilism by philosophers like Hume (Hume 1777). The advent of Frankfurt-style cases (Frankfurt 1969) transformed the late 20th century debate, by allowing compatibilists to dispense with the principle of alternate possibilities (see McKenna & Widerker 2003 for important contributions to this debate). At the same time, important new libertarian views have been developed by thinkers like Robert Kane (Kane 1996) and Timothy O'Connor (O'Connor 2000). Very recently, there has been a revival of free will skepticism (Strawson 1994; Levy 2011).
Introductions O'Connor 2005;McKenna 2008; Clarke & Capes ms
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Subcategories:See also:History/traditions: Free Will
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  1. Douglas Browning (1964). The Feeling of Freedom. Review of Metaphysics 18 (1):123 - 146.
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  2. E. S. C. (1962). An Inquiry Into the Freedom of Decision. Review of Metaphysics 16 (1):167-167.
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  3. E. S. C. (1962). Free Action. Review of Metaphysics 16 (1):166-167.
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  4. L. C. (1966). Freedom, Determinism, Indeterminism. Review of Metaphysics 20 (2):379-379.
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  5. L. C. (1966). Human Freedom and the Self. Review of Metaphysics 19 (3):583-583.
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  6. W. R. Carter (1979). Agent Causality. Tulane Studies in Philosophy 28:71-79.
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  7. Guy Claxton (1999). Whodunnit? Unpicking Theseems' of Free Will. Journal of Consciousness Studies 6 (8-9):8-9.
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  8. Philip Clayton (2009). Constraint and Freedom in the Movement From Quantum Physics to Theology. In F. LeRon Shults, Nancey C. Murphy & Robert J. Russell (eds.), Philosophy, Science and Divine Action. Brill.
  9. Paula Droege (2010). The Role of Unconsciousness in Free Will. Journal of Consciousness Studies 17 (5-6):5-6.
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  10. Gerald J. Erion (1997). Finding the Faults of No-Fault Naturalism. Behavior and Philosophy 25 (1):29 - 42.
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  11. J. J. McDowell (1986). AN UNSUCCESSFUL DEFENSE OF AN AUTONOMOUS MAN: A Review of Behaviorism, Science, and Human Nature, by Barry Schwartz and Hugh Lacey. Norton: New York. 1982. Behaviorism 14 (1):41-44.
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  12. Patrick Neil O'Sullivan (1977). Intentions, Motives and Human Action: An Argument for Free Will. University of Queensland Press.
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  13. S. P. Rastorguev (2009). Vospominanii͡a o Dushe: Matematika Virtualʹnykh Sushchnosteĭ.
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Free Will and Science
  1. José Luis Bermúdez (2010). Action and Awareness of Agency: Comments on Chris Frith. Pragmatics and Cognition 18 (3):576-588.
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  2. A. J. C. Freeman (1999). Decisive Action. Personal Responsibility All the Way Down. Journal of Consciousness Studies 6 (8-9):8-9.
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  3. Mae-Wan Ho (1996). The Biology of Free Will. Journal of Consciousness Studies 3 (3):231-244.
  4. David Hodgson (1999). Hume's Mistake. Journal of Consciousness Studies 6 (8-9):201-24.
    Hume claimed that anything that happens must either be causally determined or a matter of chance, and that a person is responsible only for choices caused by the person’s character; so that if any sense is to made of free will and responsibility, it must be on the basis that they are compatible with determinism.
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  5. David H. Ingvar (1999). On Volition: A Neurophysiologically Oriented Essay. Journal of Consciousness Studies 6 (8-9):8-9.
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  6. Jack Martin (2012). Agent Causation and Compatibilism Reconsidered The Evolutionary and Developmental Emergence of Self-Determining Persons. Journal of Consciousness Studies 19 (5-6):5-6.
  7. Uwe Meixner (2008). New Perspectives for a Dualistic Conception of Mental Causation. Journal of Consciousness Studies 15 (1):17-38.
    The paper provides new perspectives for a dualistic conception of mental causation by putting causation that originates in a nonphysical self into an evolutionary perspective. Nonphysical causation of this type - free agency -, together with nonphysical consciousness, is regarded as being not only compatible with physics, but also as having a natural place in nature. It is described how free agency can work, on the basis of the brain, and how it can be compatible with the result of the (...)
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Free Will and Genetics
  1. Patricia S. Greenspan, Free Will and Genetic Determinism: Locating the Problem(S).
    I was led to this clarificatory job initially by some puzzlement from a philosopher's standpoint about just why free will questions should come up particularly in connection with the genome project, as opposed to the many other scientific research programs that presuppose determinism. The philosophic concept of determinism involves explanation of all events, including human action, by prior causal factors--so that whether or not human behavior has a genetic basis, it ultimately gets traced back to _something_ true of the world (...)
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  2. Patricia S. Greenspan (2001). Genes, Electrotransmitters, and Free Will. In Patricia S. Greenspan, David Wasserman & Robert Wachbroit (eds.), Genetics and Criminal Behavior: Methods, Meanings, and Morals. Cambridge University Press.
    There seems to be evidence of a genetic component in criminal behavior. It is widely agreed not to be "deterministic"--by which discussions outside philosophy seem to mean that by itself it is not sufficient to determine behavior. Environmental factors make a decisive difference--for that matter, there are nongenetic biological factors--in whether and how genetic.
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  3. Patricia S. Greenspan (1993). Free Will and the Genome Project. Philosophy and Public Affairs 22 (1):31-43.
    Popular and scientific accounts of the U.S. Human Genome Project often express concern about the implications of the project for the philosophic question of free will and responsibility. However, on its standard construal within philosophy, the question of free will versus determinism poses no special problems in relation to genetic research. The paper identifies a variant version of the free will question, free will versus internal constraint, that might well pose a threat to notions of individual autonomy and virtue in (...)
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  4. Patricia S. Greenspan, David Wasserman & Robert Wachbroit (eds.) (forthcoming). Genetics and Criminal Behavior: Methods, Meanings, and Morals. Cambridge University Press.
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  5. Peter Lipton (2004). Genetic and Generic Determinism: A New Threat to Free Will? In D. Rees & Steven P. R. Rose (eds.), The New Brain Sciences: Perils and Prospects. Cambridge University Press. 88.
    We are discovering more and more about the human genotypes and about the connections between genotype and behaviour. Do these advances in genetic information threaten our free will? This paper offers a philosopher’s perspective on the question.
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  6. Garry Young (2007). Igniting the Flicker of Freedom: Revisiting the Frankfurt Scenario. Philosophia 35 (2):171-180.
    This paper aims to challenge the view that the sign present in many Frankfurt-style scenarios is insufficiently robust to constitute evidence for the possibility of an alternate decision, and therefore inadequate as a means of determining moral responsibility. I have amended Frankfurt’s original scenario, so as to allow Jones, as well as Black, the opportunity to monitor his (Jones’s) own inclination towards a particular decision (the sign). Different outcome possibilities are presented, to the effect that Jones’s awareness of his own (...)
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Free Will and Neuroscience
  1. George J. Agich (2004). Seeking the Everyday Meaning of Autonomy in Neurologic Disorders. Philosophy, Psychiatry, and Psychology 11 (4):295-298.
  2. Rosemary Agonito (1975). Neurological Information Processing and Free Persons. Southern Journal of Philosophy 13 (1):3-11.
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  3. Roksana Alavi (2005). Robert Kane, Free Will, and Neuro-Indeterminism. Philo 8 (2):95-108.
    In this paper I argue that Robert Kane’s defense of event-causal libertarianism, as presented in Responsibility, Luck, and Chance: Reflections on Free Will and Indeterminism, fails because his event-causal reconstruction is incoherent. I focus on the notions of efforts and self-forming actions essential to his defense.
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  4. Roksana Alavi (2005). Robert Kane, Free Will and Neuro-Indeterminism. Philo 8 (2):95-108.
    In this paper I argue that Robert Kane’s defense of event-causal libertarianism, as presented in Responsibility, Luck, and Chance: Reflections on Free Will and Indeterminism, fails because his event-causal reconstruction is incoherent. I focus on the notions of efforts and self-forming actions essential to his defense.
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  5. Joel Anderson (2007). Introduction: Free Will, Neuroscience, and the Participant Perspective. Philosophical Explorations 10 (1):3 – 11.
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  6. Kristin Andrews (2003). Neurophilosophy of Free Will: From Libertarian Illusions to a Concept of Natural Autonomy by Henrik Walter. Philo 6 (1):166-175.
  7. Kristin Andrews (2003). Neurophilosophy of Free Will by Henrik Walter. Philo 6 (1):166-175.
  8. Harald Atmanspacher & Stefan Rotter (2011). On Determinacy or its Absence in the Brain. In Richard Swinburne (ed.), Free Will and Modern Science. Oup/British Academy.
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  9. Mark Balaguer (2010). Free Will as an Open Scientific Problem. Mit Press.
    In this largely antimetaphysical treatment of free will and determinism, Mark Balaguer argues that the philosophical problem of free will boils down to an open ...
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  10. William P. Banks & Susan Pockett (2007). Benjamin Libet's Work on the Neuroscience of Free Will. In Max Velmans & Susan Schneider (eds.), The Blackwell Companion to Consciousness. Blackwell. 657--670.
  11. Alexander Batthyany & Avshalom C. Elitzur (eds.) (2009). Irreducibly Conscious. Selected Papers on Consciousness. Winter.
  12. Roy F. Baumeister, Alfred R. Mele & Kathleen D. Vohs (eds.) (2010). Free Will and Consciousness: How Might They Work? University Press.
    This volume is aimed at readers who wish to move beyond debates about the existence of free will and the efficacy of consciousness and closer to appreciating ...
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  13. Tim Bayne (2011). Libet and the Case for Free Will Scepticism. In Richard Swinburne (ed.), Free Will and Modern Science. Oup/British Academy.
    Free will sceptics claim that we do not possess free will—or at least, that we do not possess nearly as much free will as we think we do. Some free will sceptics hold that the very notion of free will is incoherent, and that no being could possibly possess free will (Strawson this volume). Others allow that the notion of free will is coherent, but hold that features of our cognitive architecture prevent us from possessing free will. My concern in (...)
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  14. Helen Beebee (2012). Free Will Sans Metaphysics? Metascience 21 (1):77-81.
    Free will sans metaphysics? Content Type Journal Article Pages 1-5 DOI 10.1007/s11016-011-9525-5 Authors Helen Beebee, Department of Philosophy, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, B15 2TT UK Journal Metascience Online ISSN 1467-9981 Print ISSN 0815-0796.
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  15. Dennis Bielfeldt (2009). Freedom and Neurobiology: Reflections on Free Will, Language, and Political Power. By John R. Searle. Zygon 44 (4):999-1002.
  16. Gunnar Björnsson & Derk Pereboom (forthcoming). Comments on Eddy Nahmias, “Is Free Will an Illusion?”. In Walter Sinnott-Armstrong (ed.), Moral Psychology, Vol. 4. MIT Press.
    Discusses Eddy Nahmias' “Is Free Will an Illusion?”.
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  17. Gregory B. Bonn (2013). Re-Conceptualizing Free Will for the 21st Century: Acting Independently with a Limited Role for Consciousness. Frontiers in Psychology 4:920.
    This paper examines the concept of free will, or independent action, in light of recent research in psychology and neuroscience. Reviewing findings in memory, prospection, and mental simulation, as well as the neurological mechanisms underlying behavioral control, planning, and integration, it is suggested in accord with previous arguments (e.g. Harris, 2012; Wegner, 2003) that a folk conception of free will as entirely conscious control over behavior should be rejected. However, it is argued that, when taken together, these findings can also (...)
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  18. Pratima Bowes (1971). Consciousness And Freedom: Three Views. London,: Methuen.
  19. Jean E. Burns (2012). The Action of the Mind. In I. Fredriksson (ed.), Aspects of Consciousness. McFarland. 204.
    It is assumed that mental action, such as free will, exists, and an exploration is made of its relationship to the brain, physical laws, and evolutionary selection. If the assumption is made that all content of conscious experience is encoded in the brain, it follows that free will must act as process only. This result is consistent with the experimental results of Libet and others that if free will exists, it must act by making a selection between alternatives provided by (...)
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  20. Jean E. Burns (2010). What Does the Mind Do That the Brain Does Not? In R. L. Amoroso (ed.), The Complementarity of Mind and Body: Fulfilling the Dream of Descartes, Einstein and Eccles. Nova Science.
    Two forms of independent action by consciousness have been proposed by various researchers – free will and holistic processing. (Holistic processing contributes to the formation of behavior through the holistic use of brain programs and encoding.) The well-known experiment of Libet et al. (1983) implies that if free will exists, its action must consist of making a selection among alternatives presented by the brain. As discussed herein, this result implies that any physical changes mind can produce in the brain are (...)
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  21. Jean E. Burns (1999). Volition and Physical Laws. Journal of Consciousness Studies 6 (10):27-47.
  22. Graham Cairns-Smith, Thomas W. Clark, Ravi Gomatam, Robert H. Kane, Nicholas Maxwell, J. J. C. Smart, Sean A. Spence & Henry P. Stapp (2005). Commentaries on David Hodgson's "a Plain Person's Free Will&Quot;. Journal of Consciousness Studies 12 (1):20-75.
    REMARKS ON EVOLUTION AND TIME-SCALES, Graham Cairns-Smith; HODGSON'S BLACK BOX, Thomas Clark; DO HODGSON'S PROPOSITIONS UNIQUELY CHARACTERIZE FREE WILL?, Ravi Gomatam; WHAT SHOULD WE RETAIN FROM A PLAIN PERSON'S CONCEPT OF FREE WILL?, Gilberto Gomes; ISOLATING DISPARATE CHALLENGES TO HODGSON'S ACCOUNT OF FREE WILL, Liberty Jaswal; FREE AGENCY AND LAWS OF NATURE, Robert Kane; SCIENCE VERSUS REALIZATION OF VALUE, NOT DETERMINISM VERSUS CHOICE, Nicholas Maxwell; COMMENTS ON HODGSON, J.J.C. Smart; THE VIEW FROM WITHIN, Sean Spence; COMMENTARY ON HODGSON, Henry Stapp.
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  23. Joseph Keim Campbell (2010). Review of Mark Balaguer, Free Will as an Open Scientific Problem. [REVIEW] Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews 2010 (5).
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  24. Gregg Caruso (2012). Free Will and Consciousness: A Determinist Account of the Illusion of Free Will. Lexington Books.
    In recent decades, with advances in the behavioral, cognitive, and neurosciences, the idea that patterns of human behavior may ultimately be due to factors beyond our conscious control has increasingly gained traction and renewed interest in the age-old problem of free will. In this book I examine both the traditional philosophical problems long associated with the question of free will, such as the relationship between determinism and free will, as well as recent experimental and theoretical work directly related to consciousness (...)
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